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Constitutional thought of the Dutch Revolt. Conceptions of good government, and of the duties of governments towards the people



Toegelaten tot Honours College Law.


This course offers an introduction to the various types of constitutional thought expressed in justifications of the Dutch Revolt against the Habsburg monarchy (1566-1648). Several subsequent revolutions have looked at the Dutch Revolt as the first breakthrough of ‘modern’ conceptions of good government, and of the duties of governments towards the people. In this course various influential texts, such as the Plakkaat van Verlatinge (Act of Deposition) and Hugo Grotius’s Antiquity of the Batavian Republic, and their constitutional arguments will be discussed in their historical and political contexts. We will look, among others, at the organisation of the government in de Low Countries before the revolt, at the changing ideas on the morality of government in the 16th century and the development from princely virtues to princely duties (and citizens’ rights); at ideas on the right to resistance and specific constitutional rights that were invoked to justify the revolt, and at the idea of an immemorial ‘Ancient Constitution’ in the Low Countries. One of the sessions will take place in the University Library with original copies of some of the books and pamphlets involved.


By following this course students acquire the following knowledge and skills:

  • students will have knowledge of a set of important and influential texts of constitutional, political and historical nature from the first phase of the Dutch Revolt (1566-1609);

  • students will have knowledge and understanding of early-modern debates and controversies on constitutional rights, on the relationships between princes or states and their subjects, and constitutional thought of the early Dutch Republic;

  • students can explain the relationships between these texts and their historical contexts;

  • students will be able to formulate a research question regarding these texts and a research plan, perform the research and present their results in a written paper;

  • each student will present constructive criticism of another student’s research plan for the paper.


In preparation of the sessions, the students read a selection of texts that will be made available via Blackboard. The sessions consist of a lecture followed by questions and discussion of the reading material for that week. One to three students prepare questions on the basis of the reading material that will serve as starting point of the discussion.
During the course students will write a paper on an aspect of the course material, to be handed in after the course. Summaries of these papers will be discussed in the final session: each student will be referee of another student’s research plan, and present fair and constructive praise and criticism that will help the other student to improve their plan.

Week 1: Introduction. The provinces in the Low Countries and their government before the revolt. The Houses of Holland, Hainaut, Bavaria, Burgundy, Habsburg. The position of the Count (Duke, Prince, etc) and the position of the States assembly. The ‘Collaterale Raden’. Charles V. Reformation and Centralisation; the Revolt.
Week 2: Guest speaker (to be announced).
Week 3: [IN LEIDEN UB, with original books]: Late medieval political thought; Mirrors-for-Princes; Erasmus; Cicero; Christianity; the discouse of the Princely Virtues.
Week 4: Constitutional justifications of the Revolt. The Joyous Entry. The idea of an ‘Ancient Constitution’ ; specific rights, e.g. the ius de non evocandi; taxation; administrative appointments. Ideas on the right to resistance; the conscience of the magistrate; re-interpretation of the King as tyrant; the Act of Deposition (Plakkaat van Verlatinge)
Week 5: The Plakkaat van Verlatinge and William the Silent’s Apology. The transition from Princely virtues to Duties; the Natural Law-character of this line of reasoning. William of Orange’s Apology. Hand-in date of the research plan for the paper
Week 6: The historical justification of the Revolt; the Batavian Myth. Organisation of the Dutch Republic in the 17th Century. Week 7: Discussion of the research plans and the comments by fellow students. Questions and further discussion in preparation of the paper.

Dit vak heeft de status van praktische oefening: aanwezigheid en deelname is verplicht.

Gastspreker wordt nader bekend gemaakt.


  • wijze van deelname aan de bijeenkomsten (25%)

  • paper (75%)


Bij dit vak wordt gebruik gemaakt van Blackboard.


Verplicht studiemateriaal
Wordt nader bekend gemaakt via Blackboard

Aanbevolen studiemateriaal
Wordt nader bekend gemaakt via Blackboard.


De aanmelding verloopt via uSis.

Maximum aantal deelnemers

Maximum: 12